RALEIGH — North Carolina Democrats have spent much of the last week indignantly denouncing an array of Republican actions, attitudes, and options as “outrageous” and “inconceivable.”
The most charitable explanation for their hysteria is that they simply don’t know very many Republicans. I do. It might help to consider the party’s symbol, the elephant. Zoologists appear to have confirmed the truth of the old adage that “an elephant never forgets.” The adage applies to North Carolina Republicans, too.
For example, Democrats say Republicans should have refused to support their party’s presidential nominee because of his despicable personal behavior. But Republicans have never forgotten that Bill Clinton was accused of despicable behavior and even sexual assault while he was in the White House, that he perjured himself during a resulting court case, and that he was impeached for obstruction of justice.
Republicans have never forgotten that once Democrats were confronted with these events, they didn’t renounce their party’s leader. They stuck with him, arguing that while they didn’t approve of Clinton’s “private” behavior, they weren’t willing to endanger important public policies or court appointments over it.
Today’s Republicans are also being instructed that Pat McCrory should just concede the very close governor’s race to Roy Cooper without seeking recounts or investigating potential violations of law. But Republicans have never forgotten the many weeks of recounts and legal wrangling that followed the 2000 presidential balloting in Florida.
Here in North Carolina, veteran Republicans have never forgotten many past incidents in which Democratic-leaning precincts were kept open past closing time, or boxes of uncollected ballots favoring Democratic candidates were conveniently “found” late on election night in places like Columbus County. They have never forgotten to be deeply suspicious of longtime poll workers with Democratic sympathies (even if county election boards themselves now have Republican majorities).
In the contest for North Carolina Supreme Court, Democrats say Republicans should simply accept without reservations Mike Morgan’s victory over Bob Edmunds — even though the evidence strongly suggests that voters likely intended to elect the Republican, not the Democrat, in this officially nonpartisan race (for which Morgan’s name was listed first on the ballot, unlike in every other judicial, Council of State, congressional, and legislative contest, for which Republicans were listed first). But Republicans have never forgotten that for years after the 2000 election, critics of George W. Bush alleged he was not the true choice of Florida voters because thousands had been misled by poorly designed “butterfly ballots” into casting unintended votes.
Democrats also react with fury to the rumor that some Republican lawmakers might want to remedy their Morgan-Edmunds ballot mistake by adding two members to the Supreme Court and then allowing Gov. McCrory to fill those vacancies. North Carolina Republicans, however, have never forgotten that after repeated GOP victories for judicial offices during the 1990s, Democratic lawmakers in the summer of 2000 added three new court of appeals seats but didn’t let voters fill them that fall. Instead, Democrats let retiring Gov. Jim Hunt appoint the new judges and rigged their terms so they wouldn’t face the voters until 2004 (that latter part of the Democratic scheme was ultimately nixed by the Supreme Court).
And while Democrats lecture Republicans incessantly about gerrymandering, Republicans have never forgotten what Democrats used to do to them. They remember that while today’s legislative majorities are certainly expanded by favorable district maps, Republicans have consistently won the “popular vote” for General Assembly since 2010. By contrast, in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 cycles, Democrats secured majorities in at least one legislative chamber despite getting only a minority of the total votes cast.
I’m not saying today’s Republicans should act like yesterday’s Democrats. I have long favored redistricting reform, for example, and while the Morgan win was probably accidental, I’m not sure there’s a suitable remedy for it. But when hypocritical Democrats talk about what is “inconceivable,” I can’t help but remember the line from “The Princess Bride”: That word does not mean what they think it means.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.